“Are you ready…?”
“The key to…”
“The truth behind…”
What I’ve just laid out before you are some of the biggest sources of shame in my writing. They’re examples of what no writer wants to talk about.
We all have them, but few of us care to admit it.
My name is Acadia and I am addicted to the words listed above.
These are the words we use when we don’t know what to say; as a way to fill a page when we’re feeling uninspired. They often do not even add meaning.
Crutch words are our fallback, the words that keep us from the dreaded blank page. It’s easier to use crutch words than to make sure that each and every one of your sentences is unique. When you rely on crutch words too much, your copy becomes repetitive, your email subject lines get stale, and you start to lose style and flair as a writer.
And it needs to stop.
But have no fear, you aren’t alone. We’re all here with you and together, we can work to break our addictions to these troublesome, oft-repeated words.
Admit You Have a Problem and Vow to Solve It
The first step is to admit that you have a problem. You need to acknowledge that unless you’re actively working on it, your writing is probably littered with crutch words.
Believe it. Acknowledge it. Now let’s solve it.
Identify the Problem
Pull up a handful of your most recent blog posts. Five or so will do. Email copy works too. Even your own personal emails will showcase the words that you rely on.
Now there are a couple ways to do this. You can read through your writing and manually note when you repeat a word or phrase.
But there’s an easier way.
Pull up the Wordcounter web app and throw in a blog post. Maybe all of your blog posts. Now this app won’t show you an entire crutch phrase, but it will show you the words that make them up. If you’re like me, the word “key” or “critical” might come up multiple times.
Identify these words, become aware of them. Some words you might like so much that you use them twice in a sentence.
Look for words you use a lot but don’t add any meaning to your sentences. These are likely crutch words.
A common crutch word is the word “that.” You know how many extra places you can put “that?” It’s not necessarily wrong, just unnecessary. That’s how crutch words are. They could be there, but your work will be better off if you don’t rely on them.
Here are a handful of other crutch words that you might notice creeping into your writing:
But there’s more. Adverbs are more often crutch words than useful words. We use them to try to spice up our writing, even though we all know by now that these words are just about useless and do nothing but clutter up copy:
Sound familiar? Adverbs are the original crutch words. Beware of them and eliminate them when possible.
Pin Up Your Crutch Words
This may not work for everyone, but I’m a visual person with a mediocre memory, so I need to see what I’m doing to correct my behavior. When I can’t spell a word or remember the HTML I need to create a tab on WordPress, I stick it on a note above my computer. My workspace is jammed with these notes, both of things to remember and things to avoid.
By forcing yourself to see the words you lean on, you cement them in your head, because you’ve read and reread the particular word so many times as you scan your workspace for inspiration.
If you aren’t a fan of the sticky note method, try placing them in a document on your computer that you pull up each time you write. This should be a shifting document, because your crutch words will never say the same.
Use a Thesaurus
You may be asking, “Now what words do I use?” I want you to take the words you’ve identified and go digging into the thesaurus.
Come up with alternatives to the words you need and write them under the words you’ve noted. But be careful to not make these words your shiny new crutch words. And if your crutch words were useless in the first place, then why bother looking up synonyms for them.
Start Your Sentences Differently
Most of my crutch words are at the beginning of my sentences. It’s easier to fall back on a crutch word when I’m attempting to begin a new thought. It will probably be similar for you. Catch the crutch phrases at their source and you’ll find that your writing has a new spark to it. Your sentences will have more variety, which gives your writing more life.
The key (there it is) to keeping crutch words out of your writing is to be constantly aware that they are there. Be self-aware, you’ll likely catch yourself before you include crutch words. Keep up your running list of crutch words and you’ll find that the list gets shorter.
Some words will always be on the list. They will be the first words that pop into your mind when you go to begin writing a new subject line. But as long as they stay in your head and never make it on the page, you’ll see drastic improvements in both your writing and your creativity.
What crutch words do you lean on? Do you actively try to eliminate them? How? Let us know in the comments section.